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Django’s Sevillian soul

As in other night dates the Naima Cafe, one of the epicenters of music in general and jazz in particular, took the pulse of the independent scene of Sevilla again. The characteristic notes of the main song of the movie El Tercer Hombre gave the growing public the present of Van Moustache’s comings and goings, a duet from Sevilla who is inspired by Django Reinhardt’s music. Mestizo swing, hybrid of jazz from the other side of the Atlantic, Balkan, latino rhythms as well as from Eastern Europe…all of that gathered in a project which alternates classic melodies, songs that everybody knows, covers of popular songs and movie soundtracks, along with an instrumental repertoire in which the virtuosity that an unleashed violin or a guitar/double bass solo delivers is not forgotten. Several ovations and applauses get the scarce squared meters of this jazz retreat back to normal, ideal moment for Poplacara to thresh the fundamental aspects of Van Moustache during a chat with its hard core: the musicians Rafa Torres —figure who stands out due to his double bass— and Paul Laborda —guitar player, song writer, arranger, etc.

¿What is Van Moustache?

Rafa: The project Van Moustache emerged as a duet when Paul and I made contact, we got on really well, very good musical feeling. Over time, little by little, we have had sporadic collaborations, and it was then when we met Ian who, when we play as a trio, comes along playing the mandolin and the guitar. Depending on the circumstances and the moment we have different “formats” of Van Moustache, here at the Naima with these dimensions, this is not enough.

Do you think that, for this kind of genre, this is the ideal atmosphere?

Rafa: music like this was actually born in this sort of venues, small dens, and later it got to the festivals, to big stages. The problem is that people here in the south of Spain, does not know a lot about this genre, but I think it is suitable for all kinds of spaces and audiences.

Paul: I, as a musician, prefer proximity, a small bar or a medium venue, because of the proximity and the atmosphere of complicity it creates. At a festival and on a stage you can have it, but there is always more distance, it’s a different feeling. There is more dialogue, more laughter, a bigger connection.

Gypsy Swing as your letter of introduction, why did you choose this genre?

Paul: I listened to this stuff once, back in 1992, a Reinhardt cassette tape a friend of mine brought and I freaked out, it was like love at first sight. The problem I have always had is how to find people to start a project like this, it is always very hard, except maybe Juan Martínez, this man we brought with us as a guest appearance, or Matías Comino (violinist) from O sister, Juan Vargas… so here we have formed a very close-knit group. Nonetheless, this is a kind of music that when you play it, people like it too, there isn’t a bigger demand for it because people are still tied up with some other stuff, but then when you show up with your instruments… The truth is people like it.

Did the idea of the trio Van Moustrache come out of a process of cooking and experimenting during rehearsals?

Paul: Rather than cooking and experimenting, as you said, it was coincidence, on many occasions, when you do not set out to do anything, it comes up on its own or you come up with it. It is about knowing a certain genre, a music which attracts you and you end up getting involved. Rather than experimenting, you research, listen, learn and compile material (not much is visual, almost all are things from a studio). Django Reinhardt is the source of inspiration for us.

Besides, it could be said that you gather a fusion of styles. How do you reconcile them?

Paul: We do not want to get purist about styles, so our manner of trying to take this sort of music into people’s ears is covering songs like María la Portuguesa, Puente hacia Mallorca or Bésame mucho. The main song of El Tercer Hombre is very curious, because it was what brought us together as a duet. We have it almost as the norm, as a ritual, starting every show with that song. Starting the rehearsals, sound-checks…

Rafa: It is our insignia, our battle banner so to say.

How does that Gypsy component contributes to the work and sound of your trio?

Rafa: Truly it is about Django’s style, the influence is that of the music of the gypsies from Eastern Europe. When he listens to American jazz what he does is a mixture of this jazz and the way of playing and understanding music of the Gypsy tradition. That is why it is called jazz manouche, because who created it was a Gypsy.

Paul: It is hard to put in place why Django is the first European jazzman, he is a very relevant personality. What he did was he regurgitated, translated the New Orleans swing, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, the whole golden swing age from the 20s and the 30s along with the influences and the European Gypsy tradition.

What is it that you seek to deliver in your live performance?

Paul: I think it is clear, because we have not created this style, logically, so what we are is the messengers of this kind of music and we deliver it to people. Well, apart from that, we make a living as musicians, there is the bussines, but besides the performance itself, we leave happy when the audience leaves happy, when there are people who have discovered you.

Paul: We have a very good time playing and if, at the same time that we spread it, we can live off it, as for me, bravo!

Which would be your ideal set list?

Rafa: We actually have one common repertoire, quite broad. We like to bring songs up during rehearsals but thanks to our experience we realize how the audience responds.

Paul: That is why we bring up songs which are not manouche jazz but that we include them kind of as a bit of a filter so that it will not sound so hard for people. We have songs which are very purist, but we try to bring in things that will make people enjoy, one María la Portuguesa, one song by Silvio. The instrumental songs we have are in fact songs which have appeared on TV.

Rafa: Which are popular, I think swing is after all, a genre which belongs to popular music.

Lately, Balkan music has been sneaking into some other genres such as electronic music. And people dance to swing again and the bands with these influences proliferate. Is it a good conjunction to do what you do?

Rafa: For us the truth is it is not, we have not taken advantage nor have we conformed to this, it has been rather our own initiative.

Paul: It is true there is a revival of this kind of music, which in the rest of Europe we do try to make good use of. In Europe there is more consumption and more knowledge. But, well, here we are struggling, since Sevilla is being Europeanized, we are part of that influence, Europeanization, of course, in a good way, as far as popular music is concerned. And it is about time we musicians get some respect, we are affectionate in what we do!

Rafa: I think in the end this is also part of the culture of Sevilla itself, we give it a certain personality characteristic of the south. But people who like swing sees this as something, curious, notable.

What local elements do you add to your music?

Paul: Well, the sideburn, the moustache (they laugh). I think it is rather the attitude, the character in going up onstage, grabbing your guitar and talking to the audience. People other places are perhaps curter, more serious.

Do you go abroad often?

Not as often as we would like but there we are, we have several gold mines. We are a young project, we are maturing, but we have some expectations we can cover. We don’t have the continuity we would like to have but we are in a process of projection. Actually we have just arrived from Norway and the acceptance was very good.

What comparison would you make with Spain?

Rafa: Well, there are fewer people than here, Scandinavian countries have a smaller population, but the few people there are, have given us a warmer welcome and you can sense that people are used to this type of music and there is more disposition. Here we still have to work on it, although it is true that there places where people come very inclined to it, as in the Naima, but in general I think there is still work to do here.

And for the new album, how is the maturation process going?

Rafa: Now this is hitting where it hurts…

Paul: We have it there like a cyst, because in the beginning we had the recording planned, but when it was time for production various possibilities opened and we are doubting.

Rafa: I think we are going to turn independent music around (they laugh) and we are going to create a new genre: the style of the album that never came to be.

Paul: In the end it is going to become an urban legend, but, ok, we want to have it ready for the beginning of 2015.

Despite everything, do you think jazz, spontaneity, improvisation… help remedy the difficulty to sell albums?

Rafa: That is a good question. It is very hard to take it to the physical format, but the truth is it is a good letter of introduction for a band that is oriented mainly towards the live show. And how do we take everything that makes up the experience of a live show into a series of songs? The truth is, it is very hard.

Paul: Getting into four walls, with the microphones, the equipment… it is complicated but it is a work that little by little we will get done. We are still quite green in that sense.

Rafa: This project arose from a lot of motivation of our own, from looking for promotion, gigs. It is a process of adaptation, because we are on the track to the live performance and the record is our unfinished business, the September exam.

What other projects do you have regarding the Van Moustache trio?

Rafa: We have Los Sentíos in common, which already has its own projection, its trajectory, and now we have had an acoustic change, a more personal style. I have already been playing other instruments and the truth is we are very much involved in that.

Paul: Each of us already has their own thing as well, their mercenary life. But Van Moustache is our most personal project.

What can we expect from Van Moustache as a project and already as a physical label as well?

Paul: Well, the attitude, the southern touch, from here… we have to take into account that this music has already been done. It is true though that this guitar format is something new, it is a type of music which is normally played with two guitars and a double bass, at least, or with two guitars and a violin: but the guitar and double bass thing is something strange. It is something we have there, tangible, and that we will continue to delve into.

Already to finish, an existential doubt, which came first, the chicken or the egg: the moustache or Van Moustache?

Paul: Right when we started this project, it was when we saw the moustache logo. In fact, the moustache thing is our invention dude!

Rafa: Well, the moustache was first, the Van Moustache thing came later (they laugh).